Leaving Harlan Alive

 

You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive is one of my favorite songs performed by Brad Paisley (and I am still ticked he did not perform it the last time I saw him at Rupp Arena).  It has special meaning to me.  It is about the long and hard road that many coal miners in Harlan, Kentucky (and across this region) face.  I am proud to be a coal miners daughter, granddaughter, great granddaughter (and niece, better not forget my uncle Mike).  I was born because my grandfather left Harlan alive.  

Most of the nation became familiar with Harlan, Kentucky not from a Brad Paisley song but from the television show Justified.  Who doesn’t love a little US Marshall Raylan Givens?  Although Harlan and its residents aren’t portrayed in the most flattering light, it brought attention to an area I hold dear to my heart.  Nearly 13% of the employed population in Harlan works for the Coal industry.  They are plagued with the same problems that much of southeastern Kentucky is ridden with.  A lack of jobs, poverty, and drugs are just a few of the socioeconomic disadvantage which trouble a beautiful mountainous landscape.
 

I have the utmost respect for coal miners, especially those who work in some of the harshest conditions possible just to provide a basic existence for their families.  They often struggle day in and day out just to “make ends meet” and they never give up.  Mining isn’t a safe profession either.  I have heard the gossip down in the mining camps following an accident, and seen the worry consume them, hoping it wasn’t one of their own.  It was a realistic fear for many mining families, which often had grandfathers, fathers, brothers, siblings, cousins, etc. working in the same mine.  

Coal Miners memorial Harlan Kentucky


I can’t and won’t take sides in the great debate about the coal industry in Kentucky.  My grandfather suffers from Black Lung and melanoma, a lifetime in the mines is hard on the body.  Mining kept my family in existence.  Mining still helps sustain many families across the region.  Why would you take away the job openings of those willing to work?  Especially in counties such as Harlan where according to the US census bureau 31% of residents live below poverty level , which is double the poverty average for the entire state.  It is even more heartbreaking that half of those residents live on much, much less than poverty level income.  

Overcoming poverty is not a task of charity, it is an act of justice. Like Slavery and Apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings. Sometimes it falls on a generation to be great. YOU can be that great generation. Let your greatness blossom.”  

             Nelson Mandela 


I can remember as a child traveling the winding road up KY highway 119 once a month to visit my family in Harlan.  It was a long and often car sick ridden trip for a young child.  My great grandparents George Sr and Lucy Peace, and I believe their parents too are buried on a hillside in rural Harlan Kentucky.  They never left Harlan alive.  I have been back very few times since their death.  My grandfather left for another mining camp in Kay Jay, Kentucky, where he lives to this day.  I think the only time he left was for his tour in the Korean War.  His body weakened and damaged from years in the coal mines, but forever grateful that he provided a home for his family.  My dad worked very briefly in the mines, and we lived in rural southwest Virginia while he did.  He is now a successful barber in Knox County, Kentucky.  

My grandparents, George Jr. and Norma Logan Peace


I’m proud to be a coal miner’s daughter.  It isn’t often highly regarded a profession, but how many people sacrifice their health and safety to provide a very meager existence?  My grandfather isn’t a rich man by worldly means, but he worked hard, loves God, taught me to harm no other living creature (unless you plan to eat it) and is genuinely kind to all that he meets.  It isn’t be hard to be proud to be a coal miners (grand) daughter when you have a grandfather like him, and especially since he left Harlan alive!  


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1 Comment

  • Reply Rick 25/04/2018 at 4:02 am

    Thank you, was enjoyable to read!

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